Every small business has dreams of growing into a smashing success. But as orders start to grow and the demand for products increases, keeping up with shipping goods and the demand for more space can be overwhelming. This is where fulfillment centers come in handy. They help you reduce your overhead cost, give you an easy solution for inventory management, and work to create a truly outstanding customer experience. All you have to do is get your product to the fulfillment center warehouse, and then they take care of the rest, leaving you to focus on other essential aspects of your business.
While fulfillment centers can help your business grow and reach more customers, you must pick one that fits your needs. Here are 15 secrets to help you choose a great fulfillment center for your business.
Before You Start Looking for a Fulfillment Center
Many business owners tend to get ahead of themselves and start looking at fulfillment centers right away. However, to find the warehouse that best meets your needs, there’s a bit of groundwork that needs to be done first.
Organize Your Data
The first thing you need to do is gather and organize the data surrounding your business’ inventory management needs. Organizing your data can help you determine your actual needs and what services you will need to enlist. Having this information handy, you can get a better assess what each service will cost you.
Create a List of Product Info
Each fulfillment center will need specific information about your product to give you a formal quote. They need this information so they can figure out where your product will go in their warehouse, the services that are required, and the shipping costs for your product. Data you need to provide fulfillment centers include
- SKU List: Your SKU list will tell the center how many different products you have.
- Product Dimensions: Providing product dimensions for each SKU is needed so that the fulfillment center knows where in the warehouse to store your product and how much space will be needed.
- Product Weight: The weight of each SKU is needed so the center can give you an accurate quote on how much it will cost to ship each product. Keep in mind that shipping costs are dependent on weight, packaging shape, and size.
- Product Special Instructions: If you have products with special instructions, such as cosmetics that need to be kept below a certain temperature, you’ll need to share this information right away.
- Packaging Specifications: Depending on your business’s overall brand image, you may opt for special packaging that is branded or unique compared to the traditional brown cardboard boxes. Be sure to provide this info upfront to get the most accurate quote possible.
Order Volume Figures
In addition to information about each product, you’ll want to provide historical and forecasted data for order volume and inventory turnover rate. This data gives the fulfillment center a better picture of how much work will be required with your specific contract so they can assess accordingly.
What to Look For in a Fulfillment Center
Once you have the data on your product organized, you should start looking for fulfillment centers you want to consider. Here are important things to keep in mind when hunting for the right fulfillment center.
Not all fulfillment centers are the same. While many work with a wide range of product types, others offer niche services. For instance, if you are creating a small medical device, you may want to consider working with a fulfillment center that specializes in working with medical equipment. Likewise, if your product is a cosmetic or beauty product, it makes sense to choose a center that specializes in such services as they will be used to providing the care required in shipping and handling.
Order Fulfillment Software
As a business there are enough different systems to understand and integrate into your day-to-day practices. Determine whether a fulfillment center works with your existing order fulfillment software. For instance, many centers work with shopify to make the process of fulfilling and order more streamlined. If you are unable to integrate your existing system, determine whether the new system has enough features that will be beneficial to your business.
With e-commerce growing, the need to make your product stand out from the crowd has never been stronger. Some fulfillment centers offer branding options that let you personalizing shipping materials with your brand logo (think boxes, tissue paper, packing tape, etc.). This seemingly small detail can go a long way in making the customer experinece feel special and unique.
In addition to branding, you’ll also want to look at what packaging options are available. Rther than just a simple box, you may want to opt for packaging that is a unique shape or color. You may also choose different packing filler (foam peanuts, air pillows, shredded paper, etc.) to help keep products safe in transit. Most fulfillment centers will have options, but they will vary from center to center.
Advanced Security Systems
Loss of product is always a concern. You want to choose a fulfillment center that has an advanced security system that helps you keep track of your product. This will also help deter theft from outside sources and also keep products from getting lost in the warehouse itself.
Regular Quality Checks
Customer satisfaction requires a constistent experience with each and every order. This means the fulfillment process needs to go seamlessly each time. Choosign a fulfillment company that offers regular quality checks will help ensure that your products are being shipped in the way they are supposed to, ensuring a positive purchasing experience for your customers.
Location, Location, Location
Where the fulfillment center is located can also make a big difference in both cost and shipping times and costs. Ideally you want to choose a fulfillment center that is closest to the customer. If you have a high number of customers from a particular region, focus on a fulfillment center warehouse in the same region. Otherwise, consider working with a larger fulfillment center that will allow you to put product at numerous locations so it’s closer to your customers.
Shipping Speed and Tracking
In today’s world of instant gratification, shipping speed and the ability to track a shipment are critical. If shipping times are too long, there’s a strong chance customers will go elsewhere. So make sure the fulfillment center you choose has a strong track record of efficient fulfillment and quick delivery times.
When choosing a fulfillment center you need to decide how you want to handle your returns. Some fulfillment centers only offer order fulfillment, while others also offer returns management. This means they will handle returns, restock, and work to eliminate lost inventory. If you want them to handle returns make sure the center you are considering offers this service.
Fulfillment centers offer services a varying price points. Really, the cost depends on what your product is, how big it is, the weight of the product, any special handling instructions, the type of packaging you choose, and the level of service you want. It is important to give each fulfillment center as detailed information as possible so that you get an accurate quote and aren’t surprised when you get billed. If the fulfillment cost is too high for your budget, consider making some adjustments to any additional services you’ve added (branding, special packaging materials, etc.).
High-Quality Customer Service
Last, but not least, you want to choose a fulfillment center that has a strong trackrecord of high-quality customer service. This is important for both yourself and your customers. If there is an issue, you want a customer service team that is both understanding and helpful in getting the prodblems resolved. While you can read the reviews on their website, you may also want to ask for recommendations from other business owners or even ask the fulfillment center for references.
Choosing the Right Fulfillment Center for Your Business
Choosing a fulfillment center for your business isn’t a task to be taken lightly. While choosing the right one an help your business reach success, choosing the wrong one can deeply damage your brand image by giving your customers a bad experience. The ultimate goal is repeat, loyal customers, so it is essential that every effort is taken to build a positive customer experience. Just make sure to take your time gathering the data you need for an accurate quote and evaluate the services each center offers carefully before making a final decision.